Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán urged the European Union to drop sanctions against Belarus as he met the ex-Soviet state’s strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on Friday (5 June).
“It’s impossible to build a partnership with sanctions. That’s why the time has come for the European Union to cancel the existing sanctions imposed on Belarus,” the nationalist Hungarian premier was quoted as saying by Lukashenko’s press service.
EU sanctions on Belarus include an arms embargo as well as targeted asset freezes and travel bans.
Orbán said he hoped the meeting would be a “significant step forward”.
President Lukashenko praised Hungary as “Belarus’s closest partner in the European Union. It understands us like no other.”
He thanked Orbán for his “brave step” in visiting Belarus during the coronavirus pandemic.
Neither leader was shown wearing a face mask.
Lukashenko has refused to impose a lockdown on the country of nine million, despite almost 46,000 confirmed cases and 253 deaths.
With a similar population size, Hungary is one of the less affected countries, with just under 4,000 cases and 542 deaths.
It was the first official visit to Belarus by a Hungarian premier, Orbán said.
The EU has imposed a series of sanctions on Belarus citing the disappearance of Lukashenko’s political opponents and his suppression of street protests.
It lifted most of these measures in 2016 when Lukashenko released political prisoners.
Orbán’s visit was aimed at broadening trade and economic ties and joint projects, Belarus said.
Belarusian Ambassador to Hungary Alexander Ponomarev told state news agency Belta that almost half of Belarusian exports to Hungary last year were train carriages and parts.